Week 8 Reflection–Digital Tools

Price’s article on the use of descriptor words that relate to digital history is interesting.  The connotations of words such as archives and editions and applying them to a digital context has happened in many different areas over time.  Transportation methods from boat to train to automobile have adopted terms such as transmission and interstate have been adopted to fit these new methods of transportation with familiar, older concepts.  Price’s suggestion of “arsenal” conveys the collaborative and multifaceted effort of digital historians to bring together many sources in one place but the context most are familiar with today may confuse the viewer or reader without any historical etymology of the word (I too learned that it was originally conceived as a shipyard term), of course most are familiar with the militaristic connotation of the word.  I think Price does raise some valuable questions and certainly terms like archive and database are often ill-fitting to the content on a website or suggests a vagueness as to what the website is trying to accomplish.  Project, I believe to be a great term because it suggests a historical conversation that is constantly changing, and taking place.  Perhaps new terms will be adopted, but I believe we can alter things like archive and database to have strict digital definitions, rather than re-inventing the wheel, we can re-purpose these already familiar terms to have a digital context.

I am not surprised that a low amount of professional historians interviewed for “Supporting the Changing Research Practices” report have moved onto using automatic citation programs.  But what has really surprised me is the lack of advancement in the technology of the citation programs, namely the varied nature of materials and the ability to define what the material is.  Turabian’s manual does perhaps accomplish this the best but programs like Citation Machine and BibMe are changing to accommodate many more materials.  I think what is most significant about this is that it shows that historians are stressed to retain oversight, and turn from automatic digitization, concerning the all important aspect of originality in writing and honest researching practices.

The issue of tenure remains problematic with digital scholarship.  I think that supplementary materials as with my proposed SRS website will provide a digital aspect of a historical topic but not diminish the importance of the monograph.  The SRS site will be used as a supplement to what will most likely be my thesis topic, and allows for a more interactive reader/writer relationship by providing both an interpretation and access to the primary sources used for that interpretation.  The use of large scale digital projects, or all-encompassing databases and digitization efforts, i.e. Valley of the Shadow, Documenting the American South, I think should be done after the historian or team of historians have achieved some sort of publication.  While the method is traditional, it establishes the reliability of the work of the researcher and gives credence to the historian as a critical thinker and an originator of a significant historical interpretation.  This in turn would prove the reliability of the historian’s digital work and in turn acknowledges the scholarly merit of digital history while assuaging the presumptions of the more traditional historians concerning digital history.

The Ford article grazes on the issue of contextualization in using digital tools for historical research.  I’ve come across this issue recently with a text mining project in which we are analyzing documents written on the American South and creating word clouds based on the results.  What we see is that often things like “states”, “republican”, and even terms like “better” are often times used in many different contexts with many different connotations.  We can use the computer to analyze this quickly and thoroughly but I agree with Ford in saying that the human element needs to be maintained and monitor the computer functions.  The field of text analysis is fairly new, but the more we work with it, we continue to tweek the technology to better pick up on these contexts.  For instance, with words like “better” we can attach a positive connotation to the subject of the sentence the word that “better” is describing.  With this, we can more accurately paint a picture of what the author is trying to say, more importantly, we are training the computer to function as a critical observer.

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2 Responses to Week 8 Reflection–Digital Tools

  1. Prof.Mack says:

    Interesting issues. You might additionally try to find a common threat or conclusion

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